Kaleb Negali's Race Report: App State Weekend

Written by Brooks on . Posted in Race Reports

EVENT - Appalachian State Windy Gap Road Race
DATE - 22.February.2014
AUTHOR - Kaleb Negali
TEAMMATES - E. McDonnell, A. Fulton, J. Timmerman, Matt Howe
COURSE DESCRIPTION - 10-mile loop with a significant 2.3 mile climb gaining over 600 feet. Technical Descents. Punchy and rolling elsewhere.
WEATHER - Sunny, low 60s

 This past weekend, collegiate cycling returned from its two-week hiatus with a series of three races in Wilkesboro, North Carolina (hosted by Appalachian State). Duke took a full complement of riders - sans the leader of our women's team who broke her collarbone and thumb at a training event the weekend prior.

The first race of the weekend was a hilly road race comprised of six, ten-mile loops. The first three miles from the start/finish rolled up and down; from there, the road tilted upwards with three climbs at 5-7% (each separated by short descents) over 5 miles and a sharp, fast descent to the finish. It was a course hard enough that it made the race strategy very simple - survive the attrition as long as possible. The first time up the climbs was quick and riders were disposed from the field. Duke lost Eoin the first time up, leaving us with 4 riders in a group of 25. 

The descent was windy, and Jacob and I - and a number of others - encountered issues with 60mm deep rims in a gusty crosswind, forcing us to close down gaps in the group once the road flattened out for just a bit. 

The second time up the climb, Virginia Tech brought all seven of their riders to the front and absolutely smashed the pace. The move came at a high cost to them, as they were left with only two riders in the main group when the peloton came to the climb again - but it also shelled a lot of other riders, including Jacob and I. I was close to the group over the second climb, but the steeper slopes of the third and final kick dislodged me (and two other chasing riders) permanently. Alex and Matt, however, remained in the lead group of eight riders.

Video: Group Huddle mid race

I tried to chase back on later to no avail and began struggling with lower back pain (this happens sometimes, particularly when I do a lot of climbing) and couldn't close the gap. Jacob, and later Eoin, caught my little group of three later on. Eoin was doing better as the race went on and left Jacob and I behind. 

Meanwhile, in the lead group, Matt Bruner (NC State) attacked solo and gained a 2-3 minute advantage on a chasing group of eight that still included Alex and Matt. Jacob and I, facing a long day alone, dropped out midway through lap 5. Matt Bruner's attack stuck (barely) and he stayed away for the win. For Duke, Matt finished 3rd, Alex 5th, and Eoin caught a number of dropped riders in the next two laps to finish 12th.

Video: Men's A Finish

The TTT:
After the road race, we had a few hours to recover before a short (but windy) team time trial. The course was a pretty simple 12km out-and-back with a few rolling hills in the middle. We are two-time defending national champions in this event - and this is an event we pride ourselves on doing well in. Of our five A guys, we've been experimenting with different four-man rotations (the event is run by a team of four), and Eoin opted to sit this one out.

We were the first team to start, had a nice tailwind on the way out, went quite fast, and put time into our chasing team (Navy) on the way out. I waaaay overcooked the turnaround (this cost us a few seconds). On the way back, Matt and Alex really started to fatigue, but Jacob and I were a bit fresher (due to our convenient DNFs earlier) and we took up the slack. We crossed the line with a time of18:18, which was good enough to beat Virginia Tech by 20 seconds and Appalachian State by 41. It wasn't our cleanest run ever, but getting a win in the first TTT of the year is always reassuring. 

The Criterium:
The weather Saturday was great - windy but warm (high 60s) with sun. Sunday was not so much - rainy and cool (mid 40s), which makes for pretty miserable crit weather. The course itself was fun, though - 1.1km loop with eight turns (making a figure 8). Two short punch climbs (out of turns 3 and 6) and a short downhill (between turns 1 and 2, which were so close they were, in essence, a 180-degree turn).
The race started fast as guys went for good position from the line to get the holeshot into turns 1 and 2, which effectively pulled the entire 35-man field out single file. Matt and I both came through those turns in the top 10 while Alex, Eoin, and Jacob were caught further back and had to begin working their way up.

From the first time up the Turn 6 climb, App State rode hard and attacked often, forcing Matt and I (and a few other riders) to cover their moves. With a strung-out field, a lot of responsibility fell towards those of us in good position near the front. But Matt and I were able to mark most every move, giving our teammates time to move forward. 

Usually, one can count on the first 10-15 minutes of a crit to be super hard, but then the pace slows a bit once the initial selection has been made. This was not the case on Sunday (or so it felt) - the terrain and weather certainly played a big role in this - and the pace stayed high and the race continued to be difficult.

Midway through the race, Jacob slid out hard in some gravel/sand on the outside of turn 2 and took Zeb King (App State), Matt, and Eoin with him. Matt and Eoin were able to come back in on a free lap, but Jacob's day was done. Riding through that turn lap after lap and catching quick glimpses of EMTs attending to him was awfully dispiriting. 
By the halfway point, the lead group was down to thirteen riders - including the four remaining Duke riders. Attacks continued to go, but they got less and less potent as riders grew more tired. The field more or less stayed together and, as the rain slowed and stopped, the course got a bit sandy, which made traction in some of the turns a bit more treacherous. But, for the most part, everyone kept the rubber side down the rest of the way (Alex and I both lost our rear wheels in Turn 3, but we saved our slide - but it carried another rider from App State into the curb. He was ok and rejoined on the next lap). 

Forrest Howard (App State) took a flyer with three laps to go and I moved forward to try to chase him down (Matt had been doing most of the team's work at the front and we needed to give him some break for the finale). Forrest's gap of ~10 seconds came down to ~3 with one lap to go, we brought him back into the group, and a field sprint resulted in placings of 4th (Matt), 9th (Eoin), 11th (Kaleb), and 12th (Alex). We missed the podium, but all in all, the results were good. 

Duke finished the weekend in fourth place (as a complete team) and first place (as a Men's A team). But, on a very sad note, we lost Jacob for the forseeable future to a broken collarbone. This severely affects our depth in the Men's A field. And with national championships in just under six weeks, we may be missing one of our best team time trial riders. Jacob has surgery on Thursday and after that a more definitive prognosis on recovery will be known. For now, it's an estimated four to six weeks.

Next, the racing comes to Durham, NC as Duke hosts a race weekend! It's always nice to have a home event that requires minimal travel.